Eight arrested in connection with massage parlors raid
LAKE HAVASU CITY — Last week’s strike against an alleged human trafficking operation was an example of citizens helping law enforcement protect their communities, local and federal officials said Tuesday at a news conference announcing details.
Homeland Security Investigations agents, working with police in Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City, served search warrants last Thursday at eight businesses and two residences, arresting seven people on human trafficking and prostitution-related charges.
Amanda Yamauchi, 46, on suspicion of money laundering, prostitution, sex trafficking, trafficking of persons for forced labor, unlawfully obtaining labor or services, procuring or placing persons in a house of prostitution, operating a house of prostitution, benefiting from a sex trafficking venture and receiving the earnings of a prostitute. Dean Michael Bassett, 52, on suspicion of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, trafficking persons for forced labor or services, money laundering, unlawfully obtaining labor or service, procuring or placing persons in a house of prostitution, and operating a house of prostitution. Stephen C. Hansen, 41, on suspicion of pandering.Fang F. Chen, 45, Chunxia Fang McMillin, 52, and Quan Xiang Ma, 55, on suspicion of prostitution.Dennis R. Weber, 65, on suspicion of solicitation of prostitution.
During the course of the investigation, Bullhead City police spokeswoman Emily Fromelt said, Yamauchi and Bassett were identified as the main targets. She described them as friends and business partners.
Lon Wiegand, deputy special agent in charge at Homeland Security Investigations’ Phoenix office, said the investigation began in April with a tip from a citizen about possible illegal activity at area massage businesses.
He said that undercover investigators discovered that sex acts were being offered in exchange for money and that some women working there “may be victims of human smuggling or forced labor.”
Wiegand said that employees at seven massage businesses offered undercover investigators sex acts for money.
Two foreign-born women were rescued, Wiegand said, describing their existence since arriving in the United States in stark terms.
“They were instructed to live and work at the business,” he said. “Their movements were extremely restricted.”
Wiegand said the women were forced to work at a Lake Havasu City massage business “from the time it opened until the time it closed, seven days a week, for at least 12 hours a day.”
He described the women’s living conditions as “deplorable” and “unsanitary.”
The women’s captors moved them about once a week, Wiegand said, never informing them beforehand of their next location.
In addition to the arrests, Wiegand said, the investigation resulted in the seizure of more than $128,000 in cash and $30,000 in gold coins and jewelry.
He described the group conducting the smuggling operation as a “transnational criminal organization.”
Lake Havasu City Police Chief Dan Doyle said that the tip that got the probe started was “a perfect example of ‘see something, say something,’ ” a philosophy that encourages citizens to report suspicious activity to law enforcement.
He said that his department has aggressively pursued human trafficking and prostitution outfits.
“We will continue to aggressively pursue it and the people in it,” he said. “The johns who visit, anybody who is involved.”
Doyle said the investigation is ongoing.
Chief Brian Williamson of the Bullhead City Police Department said the BHCPD and Lake Havasu frequently work together to address issues that concern one or both cities. The investigation is another example of that cooperation, he said.
“It went from basically a public nuisance (call) to two people being rescued from forced servitude,” Williamson said.
Wiegand said the victims typically are forced into prostitution as a means of satisfying some conditions imposed by their traffickers, such as paying off a smuggling fee that keeps getting raised.
“It’s said that these are victimless crimes,” Williamson said. “But as you can see, there are victims all the way through. I think I can speak for all the law enforcement here when I say we will not ignore these issues.”
Each of the suspects was taken to the Mohave County Jail in Kingman.
An eighth suspect, 56-year-old Yuqin Shu, was contacted at a Bullhead City massage business, Fromelt said. She faces charges of money laundering, trafficking persons for forced labor, unlawfully obtaining labor, sex trafficking, procuring or placing persons in a house of prostitution, operating a house of prostitution and prostitution.
Fromelt said Shu was not arrested at the time of the search warrant because her children were present.